Raider of the Lost Ark

By Ken Samuels


I drive up the hill to J’s house in the Buick wishing I’d given myself enough time to wash or at least vacuum it. Like Pig Pen from the Peanuts, I imagine Groveland dust swirling around the outside of the car to announce my arrival. Dusk is starting to fall on this late winter night and I nudge my way cautiously into her driveway, thinking, Please don’t hit the mailbox!

It’s a two-story house with big windows and a large deck. I clomp up the steps and pause for a moment before knocking on the front door. From this vantage point there is a good view of Sonora. You can see what’s coming at you. Apparently this is a big concern for her father, who, according to J, is certain that a race war is imminent. An interesting theory, I think, considering that no more than thirty black people live in Tuolumne County. I don’t voice this thought because it feels like we are very close to kissing and I’m not going to blow it by attacking her dad’s crackpot theories.

I knock on the door. Dad answers it. Mustached, handsome, and self-satisfied, he welcomes me inside, asking if I want anything to drink. I say no.

“J will be ready in just a minute.”

As he ushers me into the living room I wonder if he’s seen through my nice boy façade. Maybe he thinks all Groveland kids have divorced, sexaholic mothers with drunk, unemployed boyfriends. In my case, it’s true.

I sit down on the couch next to J’s little sister. She’s fifteen and hot to trot. Easily more experienced than I, knocking on eighteen’s door, am. Little Sister smiles at me the way she might at a five-year-old, “How cute!”

J’s mother sashays into the room with the glass of Coke on ice that I didn’t ask for. Remembering my manners, I stand, accepting the glass with a thanks, while Little Sister slides a coaster my way across the coffee table.

“Well,” J’s mother says, with a benign smile on her face, “What are your plans for the evening?”

What are my plans for the evening? Truthfully, I don’t have one. How many options are there in Sonora? I’m sort of hoping J might have a plan, although I suspect this against the rules of dating.

“A movie?” I offer.

“Ah,” she says. “What are you going to see?”

At the moment, the Sonora Twin Theatres features two films: Reds and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

I’ve seen Raiders twice already—the previous summer, in fact. What did I think? That’s entertainment! I feel no compelling desire to see it again.

"Reds?" I offer.

“Hmm,” J’s mother says, as her husband walks back into the room.

“Having that drink after all, huh?”

“Yeah—yes,” I correct myself, remembering how my grandmother always objected to the crudeness of "yeah."

I add a fake chuckle, as a sort of "whattayagonna do?" male bonding gesture.

J’s father smiles faintly in response.

Mercifully, J chooses that moment to pop into the room. I’m mildly irritated with her for making me wait, but I’ve seen enough movies to know the rule: Thou must be kept waiting awkwardly with dad while he interrogates you, although I hardly rate an interrogation—I’m certain I won’t be back.

J’s parents wish us a good night and left the room. They have a dinner party to attend.

I take in the sight of J. Isolate her individual features and she’s odd looking: beady blue eyes; Bob Hope ski jump nose; thin lips; chipmunk cheeks. Combined, these elements made for a cute face that is almost always smiling. Why does she like dark, gloomy, paranoid me anyhow?

Probably because within the secure confines of our campus radio station, where I spin records, I possess the fine art of yakety yak. Surrounded by records, just like my bedroom at home, I’m secure and glib. Safe in my radio booth, I’ve entertained a number of attractive young girls that I’d only gawked at the three previous years, all because my teacher, Mr. G, is something of a lech. He asks the cutest college-bound girls from the junior and senior classes if they would like to be staffers on the campus radio station. What kid wouldn’t want to pad their high school transcript with an easy “A”?

Not being a cute girl, I had to excel in Mr. G’s speech classes to earn an invite to be part of the radio station. Frankly, the station is the only thing that has kept me in school.

Without the station, how would I be sitting on this couch with a cute girl pressing her knee into my thigh. J smells like freshly washed girl. I feel slightly delirious.

“What do you want to do?” she asks brightly.

Do? The whole family, all of society, is intent on me having a firm plan for this evening.

I’ve already established my plan with Mom and Dad, and Little Sister is here as my witness. I reiterate: “The movies.”

“The movies,” she says, indicating neither disappointment nor excitement.

“Not okay?” I respond with what I hope isn’t too much desperation, because if this plan isn’t okay I don’t know what to do.

“That’s fine," she says, pressing her knee deeper into my thigh.

Little Sister takes this opportunity to make herself scarce.

Well, here we are, all alone. I kill my glass of Coke and wink at J, as if I’m James Bond flirting with some tomato at a French Riveria casino.

J looks at me quizzically. “Do you have something in your eye?”

“Just my eye,” I say, feeling the joke fall flat as a pancake.

No response.

I’ve killed the moment.

“Let’s go,” J said, standing up, making a decision.


Thank God for pizza, the common denominator comfort food for teenagers. We even agree on the toppings: sausage and mushrooms. I’m a pizza-eating fiend but try not to shovel slices down my gullet like I normally would when hanging out with my male friends.

“So what should we see?” J asks.

“I was thinking Reds."

I really want to see this movie. Communists are interesting to me. I’m fairly certain that I’m one myself. J’s dad shouldn’t be worried about an army of blacks massing to storm his castle, he should worry about the Communist dating his daughter.

“I don’t really want to see Reds. I’ve heard it’s boring. Let’s see Raiders of the Lost Ark."

“But you’ve seen it before, right?”

J shoots me a quzzical look and I suddenly understand. How clueless I am about dating!

“But, uh, yeah, I kind of wanted to see it again.”

“Good,” J smiles at me.

I do not feel relaxed. This is nothing like the spontaneous, flirty vibe of our previous evening together when we drove to Manteca to get Chicken McNuggets. Then after we drove back, I bought a wacky pair of sunglasses and she watched me vacuum out the Buick. I was funny, charming and light on my feet. We weren’t dating, we were just hanging out.

If only I could convince myself that we are “hanging out” on this night. All the mysteries of teen life form a veil between J and me. Or was that just the steam from the pizza? When J declines to eat the final two slices, my true self reemerges and I finish them lickety split.

I pay the tab, trying not to think about how many cords of oak I’ll have to cut for my mom’s boyfriend, the wood poacher, in order to finance my future love life.

As we walk over to the theatre, we bump into B and her junior college boyfriend whose name I don’t know.

“What’re you two up to?”

“The movie.”

“Ah,” they say, indulgently smiling.

No need to ask which movie, of course. Everyone knows you go to see Raiders of the Lost Ark again and again because you’re going to be sucking face through half of the flick. Yes, I finally get it.


There’s Indy: a nerd. Feminized and bumbling before his class of nymphette college students. Is the absent mindedness an act, like the meekness of Clark Kent? Or is a roomful of sweet young things—hair freshly shampooed, knee socks pulled up just so—more intimidating than a jungle full of vipers? Yes, probably so. Indy needs to face life-threatening danger in leather jacket his battered hat and equipped with his bullwhip.

I have my own danger to face: J’s shoulder lightly touches mine. I feel the heat emanating from her, or maybe it’s just me. I know it’s time to make a move. But what to do besides yawn, stretch, and drape my arm around hers? Such an image makes me nearly laugh out loud. Just then a snake jumps out at Indy, a moment that everyone in the theatre know is coming, because surely we’ve all seen it a couple of times by now. Nevertheless J screams and grabs my arm and puts my hand on her leg. Because she’s scared? Because she wants my hand to stay there? Will she turn her scream at me if I don’t yank my hand away? Just barely enjoying her warm soft thigh, I remove my hand and put it back on the armrest.

I try to distract myself by thinking about Raiders. Although it’s my third viewing, and I’m not seeing it willingly, it is pretty damn entertaining. Pretty damn entertaining and racist, my commie self adds. It’s hard not to notice how Indy kills a lot of darker-hued people in the space of two hours—Tibetans, Egyptians, Arabs. Granted, he bags some Nazis, too, and an African pirate and his crew save Indy’s ass, but still. J’s father, no doubt, would dig the way Indy saves Karen Allen and keeps her dress white as various reptilian looking men—Frenchmen, Arabs, Germans—paw at her. I keep these observations to myself.

The movie ends and we make our way out of the theater. Blinking at the lights in the lobby, J yawns and says, “I think I should probably go home. I’m pretty tired.”

I try to read her tone: boredom or genuine tiredness?

What else can I do but comply with her request and drive her back home. With the pizza still sitting heavily in our stomachs, I can hardly suggest a trip to Manteca for more McNuggets. No, something has to happen and I can’t force it—that’s what I feel.

We get in the Buick and I drive back up to J’s house in silence.

We walk up the stairs in the dark. The air is warmer than three hours ago. Worlds have turned.

“Well,” I say, gently pawing at J’s shoulder. Maybe a hug?

She grabs my hand and pulls me toward her. She sticks her tongue in my mouth, engaging mine with expertise. The non-taste of tongue. Mine flops haplessly, like a dying fish. A future me, an experienced me would have embraced, caressed, groped, but this version of me stands dazzled as J releases me, and bids me goodnight.

I float back down to the Buick. Maybe just for five seconds I’m in love. She kissed me! With her tongue!

If J’s dad would be appalled by his daughter slipping some tongue to a Jewish, hippie, hillbilly, commie, so much the better!

I pull the portable tape player I keep under the seat and blast “London Calling” as I drive home, taking it slow, wondering if I’ve secured the idol.